Commentator’s Call: Pulse will be tough to stop
At the start of the 2018 season, few pundits picked a Grand Final return for the Southern Steel.
The defending champions lined up this year without their number one strike weapon, Jhaniele Fowler or defensive queenpin Jane Watson. But guess what, here they are in what will be a re-run of last year’s showdown.
The Pulse have set the running all season, driven by some excellent off-season pick-ups and compelling on court combinations. A rejuvenated Sulu Fitzpatrick has complemented Katrina Grant beautifully at the back, while “the kids” have run the shooting circle.
Aliyah Dunn and Tiana Metuarau are still in their teens, and have been superbly backed up by Ameliaranne Ekenasio. The Silver Fern has had to watch much of the season from the bench, but when the pressure’s come on, has stepped up and put in MVP performances.
Dunn has been particularly impressive. The 18-year-old is of course from Invercargill, and it’s a little ironic that her first ANZ Premiership Grand Final will be against the Southern Steel rather than for it.
Her opposite number 21-year-old Jen O’Connell has also had a fine season, ably filling the shoes left empty by Fowler. They have similar numbers over the 13 rounds of the regular season - Dunn 492/542 at 91% and O’Connell 485/573 at 85%.
The Steel come in to Sunday afternoon’s game with just three days between the Elimination Final and the big one in Palmerston North. That quick turnaround was what the Pulse had to deal with last year, and Grant says they’re happy to have avoided it in 2018.
The Steel took last year’s title 69-53 in a final in Invercargill which was a bit of a fizzer. Rest assured this game won’t be one of those. This will be Steel captain Wendy Frew’s 176th and final elite netball game, and she leads a side that knows how to eke out a win.
But this Pulse team has been a step above the rest, all year. They leaped to the top of the ladder after Round 1 and have been there ever since. They are the best defensive side in the competition and the most accurate.
There are all sorts of reasons why Pulse captain Katrina Grant will remember 2018, and chances are an ANZ Premiership victory will be another one.